Aldridge leads Blazers to win

Forward scores 25 in win over 76ers

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

Updated: December 26, 2011, 11:40 PM

 

PORTLAND — St. Nick was a day into his vacation. Presents under trees had been cleared around the world.

But in the spirit of the holidays, Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala offered one final gift to the Trail Blazers A missed 3-pointer.

Had that 26-footer swished through the net and not clanked off the rim, Portland may have blown its opening game of the season.

Had that 3-pointer gone down, the Trail Blazers would have likely gone to overtime instead of trumping Philadelphia 107-103 in their season-opener.

Had Iguodala shot the ball just an inch father, Rip City might be talking about the Grinch who stole the Day After Christmas.

But instead, all is merry.

For the 12 consecutive year, the Trail Blazers won their first home game of the season — doing it with a touch of grace, a dash of imperfection, and about three gallons of entertainment.

A seemingly insurmountable lead evaporated in the span of four minutes. But the Blazers hung on while providing the drama fans deserve after waiting nearly eight months for basketball to return.

“There was a lot of good in the game, but there was a lot of room for improvement,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “Tonight was about trying to figure out the rotation and look at the combinations.”

Well, Portland’s first combination looked darn near impeccable. The Blazers jumped out to a 26-15 lead at the end of the first quarter while holding Philadelphia to under 32 percent shooting.

The 76ers rallied back to within four points by halftime, but with 18 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers still appeared to be in control.

This perception seemed especially true when the Blazers took a 14-point lead with just over four minutes to go, an advantage that can be largely accredited to Jamal Crawford slicing and dicing Philadelphia’s defense on his way to 12 points and four assists in 21 minutes.

Two years ago, the 31-year-old won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. But if there was any doubt he was still just as capable off the bench, he temporarily put that to rest Monday.

“He’s a big-time player. This is a guy who has had three 50-point games,” said Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, who finished with 16 points on 4-of-14 shooting. “We all know what he can do.”

But that comfortable lead suddenly got uncomfortably small.

After an array of clutch outside shots from Iguodala and Lou Williams, the 76ers had closed the gap to two points with 22 seconds remaining.

After Raymond Felton missed one of two free throws for the Blazers, Iguodala chucked up the aforementioned shot with 1.9 seconds left ... but came up short.

The Blazers expressed both joy and relief in the locker room after the game, although Aldridge most likely felt the latter.

The power forward finished with a team-high 25 points and seven rebounds — but failed to record a point or a board in the fourth quarter while missing all five of his shots.

McMillan said the scoring dearth was due to a combination of circumstance and conditioning.

He asserted that Crawford was dominating the offense for much of the fourth quarter, but that Aldridge still needs to work his way into game shape.

Aldridge didn’t disagree.

“I was flat (in the fourth quarter),” Aldridge said. “I had a lot of good looks. I think I kind of got frustrated with myself but my legs weren’t into my shot. I think I got tired out there and then I started shooting standing up and not using my legs any more.”

But it’s not as though Aldridge was the only Blazer shooting. The team finished with 97 shots — 14 more than Philadelphia — which was as a result of both pace-of-play and Portland’s 17 offensive rebounds.

Portland also forced 20 turnovers while committing just 12.

Plus, as Matthews said of the high number of field-goal attempts (40 of which went in), “I can’t think of too many that weren’t good ones.”

Portland (1-0) had six players in double figures, including Gerald Wallace (21), Felton (12) and Nicolas Batum (10). Philadelphia (1-0) had seven — with Lou Williams leading the way with 25 points.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com